Freedom of Information Act, 1997
The Freedom of Information Act, 1997 established three new statutory rights:
- A legal right for each person to access information held by public bodies;
- A legal right for each person to have official information relating to him/ herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading;
- A legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting oneself.
The Act also requires that each Department of the Government publish information in relation to its functions and the type of records held by that Department.
The FOI Act provides for exemption from release of certain types of information. In general such exemptions are designed to protect sensitive or confidential information, where its disclosure may damage key interests of the State or of third parties. Generally, the following categories of records, inter alia, are exempt:
• Meetings of Government;
• Deliberations of public bodies;
• Parliamentary, court and other matters;
• Law enforcement and public safety;
• Security, defence and international relations;
• Information obtained in confidence;
• Commercially sensitive information;
• Personal information.
In relation to information obtained in confidence, Section 26 of the Act deals with this exemption. The section states, inter alia, that a public body may refuse to grant release of certain information which has been “given to the public body concerned in confidence and on the understanding that it would be treated by it as confidential and, in the opinion of the head (public body), its disclosure would be likely to prejudice the giving to the body of further similar information from the same person”. However, this exemption may not apply, if in the opinion of the public body, the public interest, on balance would be best served by releasing the specific information requested.
Performance of Schools
Section 53 of the FOI Act provides that the Minister for Education and Science may refuse access to any information to do with the comparative performance of schools in relation to the academic achievement of students enrolled in the school.
Queries in relation to the Department of Education and Science’s obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 can be made to:
Freedom of Information Unit
Department of Education and Science
Tel: 01/8095039 or 01/8734700